A Review of Tarry Lodge, in New Haven

The metro area has few culinary A-listers to rival Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich — the restaurant-world power duo behind Manhattan venues like Babbo (winner of multiple James Beard Awards), the Michelin-starred Casa Mono, and more than a dozen other American eateries.

And given how well their first two forays into the region have been received (the first Tarry Lodge enoteca and pizzeria made its debut in Port Chester, N.Y., in 2009, the second in Westport, Conn., in 2011), they could easily have rested on their laurels. But the newest incarnation, which opened in downtown New Haven last fall, proves they are still upping their game. This Tarry Lodge is the best one yet.

Some of the perks at this particular location are strictly architectural. The space, set just a few blocks from Yale’s Old Campus in a university-owned building, is much smaller than the first two — with just a single, 75-seat dining room where high ceilings and large front windows make it feel airy without sacrificing coziness. This is the first outpost to be outfitted with acoustic tiles, according to Nancy Selzer, a managing partner for the three Tarry Lodges with Mr. Batali, Mr. Bastianich and Andy Nusser, the executive chef. (Translation: It is the first where you can actually hear what your tablemates are saying.)

What sets this iteration apart, though, is the way it has been specially adapted for its local clientele. As at the other locations, the rustic, seasonal Italian menu here encompasses both casual fare — like the 12-inch Neapolitan-style pizzas, topped with salumi and house-made cheeses, and served smoking hot from the oak-fired Mugnaini oven — and more elegant dishes, like fresh-made pastas, grilled meats and seafood.

“We really strive to be all things to all people,” Ms. Selzer said in a phone interview after my visits. “We try to cater to people with refined palates, who want a beautiful meal and a nice big Barolo to go with it. But we also want to be a great neighborhood place for takeout pizza.”

This approach is, naturally, a good fit for the university crowd. In an inspired stroke, Mr. Batali and his partners have taken the foot-in-each-camp idea even further here by offering two main-course menu sections geared for “professori” and “studenti.” The former includes robust, higher-priced options like a Creekstone hanger steak and a crisp-skinned roasted whole branzino; the latter a lineup of budget-friendly choices like a hearty baked vegetarian giambotta (stew), heritage pork meatballs and a gooey porchetta calzone.

Happily, just about every dish my companions and I tried over two visits — during which we ordered from every part of the menu — was outstanding. On a busy weekend night, we enjoyed several of the more upscale preparations, including a tender, flaky pan-roasted salmon filet accompanied by lightly charred rapini and cherry tomatoes that burst at the touch of a fork; a bowl of squid-ink fettuccine flecked with juicy grilled rock shrimp and cubes of spicy chorizo; and a plate of dainty sweet pea and ricotta ravioli, dressed with lemon and Grana Padano and strewn with bright-green pea shoots. All of these, as well as excellent recommendations of wine by the glass, were proffered by a server so attentive that one of my friends whispered, “Do you think she knows you’re a reviewer?”

A later lunchtime visit, during which my husband and I tried some of the more modestly priced comfort foods, was just as satisfying. A pizza stippled with creamy burrata and ribbons of pancetta, then drizzled with chili oil, was so delicious that we bickered over the last slice. Tucking into the aforementioned calzone, a bomb stuffed with moist roasted pork, mozzarella, grilled onions and fire-roasted peppers, I could have sworn I heard my husband mutter, “I never ate like this when I was a student!”

Faculty- and student-themed offerings aside, the chef-d’oeuvre of this Tarry Lodge may well be its dessert menu. Featuring a mix-and-match list of house-made soft ice cream flavors (Valrhona chocolate, olive oil) and esoteric toppings (fennel pollen, salted Marcona almonds, pomegranate syrup), it playfully bridges the divide between delicacy and good old-fashioned gluttony. Both the tuition-saddled and the tenured should leave equally happy.

The New York Times

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